Cricket: S Africa extend TV boundaries

Cricket brings catches and lbws into focus after the summer controversies
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The Independent Online
THE NEXT phase in the revolution to use technology to police sport will take place in South Africa this winter when umpires in domestic first-class and one-day cricket will be allowed to use television replays and the third umpire for more decisions than ever before.

In addition to confirming if a ball has carried fully to the fielder for decisions on catches, umpires will now be able to check if the batsman actually made contact with the ball. And for the first time, leg- before decisions, by their very nature a creature of opinion, will also be referred, but only to check if the ball hit the bat or pad first. Importantly, the decision to refer to the third umpire is still to be at the discretion of the on-field umpire. Only for boundary decisions can the third umpire initiate proceedings. The moves, which were agreed last week by the United Cricket Board of South Africa, follow last summer's series in England, which was marred by several contentious umpiring decisions.

Brian Basson, director of umpiring and playing affairs for the UCB, said: "There is no intention to extend the use of televised replays to adjudicate upon lbw appeals further. The lbw decision is a matter of opinion which the umpire is in the best position to make, whereas all other decisions are based upon a matter of fact. To detect faint edges with the use of super-slow motion magnified replays will eliminate one of the most contentious decisions required to be made by umpires."

Of the numerous controversial decisions last summer Mike Atherton's non-dismissal having gloved an Allan Donald bouncer during the crucial Trent Bridge Test between England and South Africa probably had the greatest effect on the outcome of the series. It certainly was not the only erroneous decision, though, as Jonty Rhodes was given out caught behind off a leg- glance when the replay showed his bat to be a considerable distance from the ball, Mark Ramprakash was caught off his arm, and both sides suffered lbw dismissals when the super slo-mo camera proved the ball had been edged first.

International matches are not - yet - affected by the changes as they come under the jurisdiction of the International Cricket Council but Ali Bacher, the managing director of the UCB and driving force behind the moves, is hopeful that technology, if proved an aid to umpires, will be developed in international cricket. "Clearly the changes are an experiment," he said. "But we would rather try to find out if it is successful than not try at all. If using the technology is successful we will bring up the format at the next meeting of the ICC with a view to it being used world wide.

"Earlier this week I spoke to Christopher Doig, the chief executive of New Zealand cricket, and he fully agreed with our actions and said that something similar would be happening this year in New Zealand."

The changes in South Africa were developed by a small committee which included two international umpires, Rudi Koertzen and Cyril Mitchley, and a current player with international experience, Clive Ekstein of Gauteng. "The commitee was unanimous in its decision," Bacher said, "and interestingly Rudi Koertzen told us that of the other international umpires with him at the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia, the overwhelming majority, though not all, were in favour of experimenting with the technology that is now available.

"Umpires have recently found themselves in the unenviable position where everyone else has access to super-slow motion replays," he continued. "We are trying to help them to come to the right decisions because we realise that umpires are still an integral part of the game and if technology can help them, then let's use it."

The UCB are keen for the changes to be used during the forthcoming West Indies tour, but only in televised provincial matches. The West Indian board have yet to respond, but Bacher is hopeful that they will go along with the experiment. "I spoke to the West Indian manager, Clive Lloyd, during the Leeds Test match and he seemed in favour of the idea because like me he believed if the technology was there we should use it," he said.